By Jensen, Randy on September 25, 2020.
LETHBRIDGE HERALD – COALDALE
In March, Coaldale & District Emergency Services (CDES) launched the Firefighter Mental Health program to provide additional supports to volunteer firefighters. Studies show that firefighters and paramedics have a significantly higher risk of mental disorders compared to the public. Subsequently, CDES felt the need for a program that offers psychological support for its emergency responders.
“It was essential for us to have a program in place to care for our volunteers who sacrifice so much to serve our citizens,” said CDES Fire Chief Kevin McKeown in a news release. “We saw a need for a program like this and decided to implement it immediately.”
Staff and volunteers at CDES have access to the Employment Assistance Program (EAP) through the Town of Coaldale which provides mental health assistance and counselling services. However, there are a number of barriers that discourage the use of the program. The Firefighter Mental Health program provides more curated access to certified psychologists who have training in dealing with emergency response personnel and strives to remove stigmatization surrounding mental illness.
“Mental health has long been stigmatized so we hope that by offering this program we can relieve some of the discomfort that might come from asking for help,” said McKeown. “Our volunteers sign up to serve our community and shouldn’t have to suffer for years or into retirement with a psychological injury sustained on the job.”
The Mental Health program is part of Administration and Council’s ongoing efforts to provide a higher level of service to volunteer firefighters than what is typically expected in small communities. To support the growing volunteer base, the volunteer firefighter property tax credit and the business tax credit were also introduced earlier this year as a way to acknowledge the sacrifices made by our volunteers and to thank local businesses who employ volunteer firefighters and allow them to respond to emergencies during the day.
“The volunteer firefighter program is a source of great pride for the community and the Town is willing and eager to support innovative strategies that elevate the program,” said Cameron Mills, Manager of Economic Development for the Town of Coaldale. “We hope that in continuing to go above and beyond in providing these services we can both incentivize new recruits and provide reliable support for the dedicated volunteers that keep our community safe.”